Le Clézio: Interrogating French-Mauritian Identity

Le Clézio: Interrogating French-Mauritian Identity

J. M. G. Le Clézio is a Franco-Mauritian novelist and professor born in Nice. His father was of French ethnicity but was born in Mauritius at a time when the island was a British possession. Le Clézio, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008, is a prolific writer whose works reflect his dual identity.

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J.M.G. Le Clézio is the best-known cultural icon of Mauritius. Le Clézio, who holds dual Mauritian and French citizenship, maintains strong personal ties with the island. He once said in an interview: ’I consider myself an exile because my family is entirely Mauritian. For generations we were fed on Mauritian folklore, food, legends and culture… On the other hand, I love the French language which is perhaps my true country’. France remains the dominant cultural influence on Mauritius since it first gained control of it in 1715, despite ceding the island to the British in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars.
J.M.G. Le Clézio, 2008 Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Le Clézio began writing at the age of eight during a month-long voyage to Nigeria, where he and his family would eventually settle. His ability was swiftly recognized after he was first published: at the age of 23, his first novel Le Proces-Verbal (The Interrogation, 1963) earned him the Prix Renaudot. At least thirty six of his books, including short stories, novels and essays, have been published since his debut novel, rendering him one of France’s greatest contemporary literary figures.

From 1963 to 1977, Le Clézio explored themes of language, insanity and writing. His writing style was characterised by experimentation and innovation in form. In the mid-1970s, though – when he started travelling extensively – his method altered remarkably, as it became informed by more traditional narrative structures. His style grew increasingly more sober, and the artfulness of his work lay in the simplicity of the language. He used popular themes such as travelling, adolescence, and childhood that attracted a greater audience.

The apotheosis of Le Clézio’s critical acclaim culminated in his being awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy described Le Clézio as being an ‘author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization’.